The Power of Humility

Posted on July 22, 2022 by Rabbi Arnie Gluck

This week’s reading of Torah brings us to a critical moment of transition in our people’s journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land. Moses, realizing that his end is near, prepares his people to carry on without him. He has glimpsed the land he will not enter and has made his peace with his lot. Now his every concern is for the continued wellbeing of his people.

Moses entreats God to appoint a successor so the Israelites will not be “like sheep that have no shepherd.” God agrees and instructs Moses to transfer his authority to Joshua by laying his hands upon his head in the presence of all Israel. This is more than just a peaceful transfer of power. It is an awe-inspiring expression of personal humility and love for his people on the part of Moses. It is also a powerful reminder that the mission is greater than the person who fulfills it, and that the measure of a leader lies in the depth of their devotion to the cause and the people they serve.

The Torah says of Moses that he was the most humble man on earth. Considering his biography, this may not be self-evident. It took courage and self-confidence to stand up to Pharaoh and demand his people’s freedom. A lesser person could not have endured the incessant whining and complaining of our people on their journey through the wilderness. And an obsequious person could not have stood up to the rebellion of Korach or navigated the betrayal of the Golden Calf. In fact, it was precisely his humility that enabled Moses to navigate one crisis after another.

Had his ego informed his actions Moses would have failed definitively. Constantly assailed, it was no small feat not to take every affront personally. And yet, he was mostly successful in this regard. When he did succumb to frustration and anger it cost him dearly. He would not be allowed to complete the journey and bring his people home. An egotistical person would not have been able to accept such disappointment, but Moses did. Perhaps this is his ultimate gift to us over the generations. He taught us how a true leader faces failure with humility and fortitude. He taught us the depth of meaning and fulfillment to be found in a life of service. He taught us what it means to walk humbly with God. And he taught us what love of people looks like in real life.

May we who are blessed to live in a democracy have the wisdom to choose leaders who possess the qualities and virtues of Moses. May we strive to embody them in our own lives. And may it be that when our time comes, we pass the torch with grace and equanimity knowing that we have raised and empowered the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Gluck